Posts Tagged ‘music’

Cultural Resonance in Rihanna’s Dancehall

February 25, 2016

Riri

Rihanna’s “Work” is slathered with dancehall aesthetics, oozing and dripping off the brows and shoulders of dancers, the froth spilling from Red Stripe neck and mouth, and in every twist, dip and arms crossed on the lower back arch of a woman throwing it back on a man. The dancing is straight dancehall as is her look, equal parts dancehall queen and fashion staples from yard.

When The Guardian explored Rihanna’s use of accent and language in the song, linguist Lisa Jansen is quoted as considering how, “Although she uses some prominent Caribbean features in Work, they are not specifically or uniquely Bajan”; while contemplating that “Rihanna draws on various elements and eclectically builds her own linguistic repertoire.” What Jansen doesn’t note is that those “Caribbean features in her lead single” aren’t just quasi-Caribbean-sounding-kinda-ting, and yes, it’s not Bajan at all, but it’s not some Rihanna-speak, it’s specifically Jamaican patois with a Bajan lilt. I am not fluent in Jamaican patois (not even remotely close), so I won’t presume to comment on the replication of that patois, but we know it’s Jamaican patois being employed — at least the Anglophone West Indies and anyone who knows sung Jamaican patois knows this.

Jamaican patois is the lingua franca of Caribbean Cool and dancehall is its long standing center as the pulsing vein of contemporary West Indian popular culture. And in a region that is sometimes bubbling with inter-island assertions and jealousies about culture, pride and ownership, this might be a difficult thing for some of us to acknowledge, but it is. Jamaicans know this; the rest of us either begrudgingly admit this or pretend this isn’t the case.

Where dancehall culture and black cultural masculinity meet, further interesting things unfurl which dictate the lean and swag of men, the stereotype of the screw face of every badman in a Jamaican movie, the clothes they wear, how they operate, receive and give wines, dagger, receive or give oral, or purport not to, and this is all encoded in the language of dancehall. It’s part of what DJ Khaled taps into in his snapchats punctuated by sporadic Jamaican patois interjections and phrases, and his claims that he doesn’t go down on women (“like a Jamaican”): it both complicates and ups his cool quotient.

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The Wine That Almost Broke the Internet

December 7, 2014

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I wouldn’t claim to be the biggest Bobby Shmurda fan out to be quite honest, but what I am a fan of is wining on a whole, and men wining. Always, always a fan of that for a range of reasons. Bobby Shmurda’s West Indian background has already been acknowledged, so I’m not surprised to see he can pelt some waist. Gwan Bobby. It’s always fascinating too how the masculinity enacted and projected in “Hot Nigga” (and even the dancing in there) seems interpreted as mutually exclusive with the dancing seen above. A lot of online commentary showed just how uncomfortable and displaced some folks are with reconciling the rapper of “Hot Nigga” with hip rolling. There was plenty of flabbergastation, shock, disgust, and head shaking to go around.

Meh. His wining is the least of my concerns.

Good Wining: Dancing and Cultural Identity

November 9, 2014

“She had no timing; she was East Indian.” * 

The truth is good wining is really subjective. One person’s perceived expert daggering is another person’s “leave me alone nah.” I always like to think that I can tell where people are from — by their wining. In Caribbean parties, when a groin stealthily presses against me, fusing its oscillations into mine, sometimes I’ll dance back and afterwards, whirl around to guess triumphantly, “You’re Jamaican, aren’t you?” Sometimes I am wrong, but I am usually correct. I can tell a Trini wine too. Boy, can I tell a Trini wine. We fit like puzzle pieces riding a soca rhythm that we both know intimately. Let me restate that, a good Trini wine.

There are good wines and bad wines and across cultures, we can find different wining styles. Vincentians don’t wine like Trinbagonians or exactly like Bajans. None of this is inherently better or worse. It all depends. I like to lead and set the pace. I hate to be juggling with a dancing partner over leading a wine. Sometimes, our rhythms don’t match up. Sometimes people are off beat. And a hot mess. Sometimes, it’s all Mean Girls-esque like, “You can’t wine with us.”

So, how do we end up deciding what “good” wining looks like? It’s not so much that the video lead can’t wine in Olatunji’s recent “Wining Good” video, but when her wining then gets filtered through the peculiar lens of race and culture, some interesting things start revealing themselves. Judging by youtubers, there is plenty of that occurring with recurring echoes of this Indian girl can’t wine good forming a significant portion of the criticisms of the video. Inside of Trinidad and Tobago, cultural anxieties about race and nationality get well wrung out and tellingly signified inside of soca and calypso. Olatunji himself, is part of a rich lineage of black and Afro-descendant Trinbagonian men singing about wooing, seducing, loving, and or paying homage to a certain East Indian woman.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, wining often symbolizes sexual ownership and alternately or concurrently, sexual agency — the question of whether wining itself, is inherently, primarily, sexual, is another issue altogether. I think it can be whatever you want it to be. The exact same movement can constitute a polite wine you might deliver once then hustle off and extract yourself from it. It can mean nothing. Or it can mean something. The same movement can also be incredibly sensual when both parties want to take it there.

Before Olatunji, there was Mighty Sparrow’s “sexy Marajhin“, Shurwayne’s “East Indian beauty” in “Don’t Stop“; Scrunter’s “Indian gyul beating bass pan coming up in Despers“; Preacher’s “Dulahin“; Moses Charles’ “Indrani“; Machel Montano (with Drupatee) in “Indian Gyul“; and of course, curry songs like Xtatik’s “Tayee Ayee” and Mighty Trini’s classics about “Indian obeah” or the curry and the woman who packed up and left him. I would also classify Second Imij’s enduring “Golo” as firmly within this trope too, where the golo, “this Indian beti living Caroni”, takes a firm hold of poor Uncle’s sensibilities under some questionable means. Or, we could just say that Uncle went quite tootoolbay over his Indian woman.

Conversely, Indian artistes very rarely sing about or employ Afro-descendant amours in soca, chutney or calypso. Black and African descent female soca women sing about Indian men far less than the men sing about Indian women. Denise “Saucy Wow” Belfon’s “Indian Man” and Destra’s “Come Beta” are notable exceptions. Drupatee Ramgoonai burst onto the soca scene significantly claiming her space in a male and Afro descendant space. Drupatee could not  have done so singing about how well a black man wined, I imagine. Absolutely could not. When Rikki Jai enters the soca arena, fittingly, the mango of his eye is a lovely Indian girl named “Sumintra” whose Indianness, in fact, is strongly mitigated by telling Rikki “I am a Trinbagonian” and “hol’ de Lata Mangeshkar, gimme soca.” She exists in song in sharp contrast to widely held local ideas of Indian nationalism.

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Feminist Kaiso and Soca Playlist

February 11, 2014

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Because you needed this in your life and the carnival season is upon us and because wining (without an “h”) is totally a feminist act. And some of allyuh need to be schooled in some classics.

Do note: for the purposes of my personal analysis, a feminist calypso or soca song can be feminist regardless of whether the performer has explicitly called themselves feminist. So, no, Destra may or may not consider herself feminist (I have no idea about that) but that doesn’t prevent a feminist lens from being applied to her work.

I’m also aware that male songwriters have penned some classics for women, but unless we are going to completely erase the agency of the women performers who bring the songs to life, then that too, doesn’t detract from meaning and implications. All shared art: musical, written and otherwise, is liable to interpretation, which may or may not collude with the artists’ agenda. Additionally, all songs sung by a woman aren’t implicitly feminist just because a woman sings it. Case in point: Patrice’s “Give Him (Bam Bam).” Yeah, no eh.

Anyhow, a soca or calypso song may be feminist if it advocates for women’s autonomy and agency, interrogates and or celebrates women’s sexual agency (in soca and calypso, this is often symbolised by the free movement of and “ownership” of the bam bam as well as wining); reinscribes social mores, or advocates for or examines gender (in)equality, or complicates how we think about gender or gender roles in society. Or just sounds good to the feminist ear. Basically, if feminists can flex out to it and not cringe inwardly, then we might be on to something.

Without further ado, some of my favourite feminist chunes in no particular order. (List is not at all exhaustive. List is also, arguably, very Trini soca/calypso oriented.)

“Die With My Dignity”: because you shouldn’t have to bull for a wuk. Unless of course that is what your work entails. Voluntarily, safely and with personal agency of course. (We don’t slutshame or invalidate sex work in these here parts.)

Also, because Singing Sandra was part of The United Sisters, the first ever all-woman kaiso soca group and she’s a legend!

Sample lines: “Well if is all this humiliation/ to get a job these days as a woman/ Brudda, dey go keep dey money/ I go keep my honey and die with my dignity!”

Which leads me to “Whoa Donkey” by The United Sisters because of soca sisterhood and the no-attempt-to-hide-sexual-innuendo coupled with a dance that is nothing short of classic. Sample lines: “Tonight in de fete/ Is ride until yuh wet/ climb up on ah back. . .”

Saddle up, fellas! And ladies.

“Obsessive Winers.” Denise, Alison and Destra. Soca Queen Triad who doh deal with outta timers. That is all.

Calypso Rose’s version of a classic, “Rum and Coca-Cola.” She is a Tobagonian by birth from the sister isle and the first woman to ever win a Road March title!

Drupatee Ramgoonai for rewriting social, gender and racial expectations as the first female East Indian soca star. (Also see the equally classic “Mr. Bissessar.”)

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Makin’ Style: Trinidad James and Saga Boy Aesthetics

January 5, 2013

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The cultural shadow gets cast when someone from your own cultural background or heritage does something noteworthy or cringeworthy — Trinidad James is currently casting one. Depending on who you ask, the responses range from shame to staunch or low-key West Indian pride. The eyes of the twin-island republic (and its diaspora) that carries the name of his moniker have been watching especially close. So amidst all the hoopla, I finally sat down near the end of last year and watched the video for “All Gold Everything.”

I wasn’t terribly offended at all (surprisingly), but I was highly intrigued by the imagery after I took several minutes to process it all. From the time the beat started thumping and the camera pans to the flag ring next to James’ gold laden fingers, the gold handlebars, the leopard print (crushed velvet looking) shirt, the crisp Trinidad and Tobago bandana clutched like some kind of scepter, the puppy and the sawed off shotgun; this interspersed with scenes of James’ crew on the block, James up in the club — I was relegated to sorting out my piquing interest.

While trying to order my thoughts around the visual imagery, the sparse lyrics and the criticisms I’d heard and read, I was struck by Trinidad James’ style aesthetic and why it seemed to strike a culturally familiar chord. And I’m not the only one talking and thinking about the way he dresses.  In an interview on New York’s Hot 97, when asked about his unique fashion sense, James acknowledged that he “ran a boutique in Atlanta for like, three, four years.”

Trinidad James Of course, indie rap is hardly a strange place within which to indulge a different kind of fashion sense. Other rappers like The Based God (Lil B) and A$ap Rocky also help reinscribe the boundaries of what rappers, black men and black men rappers could dress like. A$ap also has a penchant for gold but then again, few rappers don’t. What makes Trinidad James of curious note is where his aesthetic converges at the intersection of nationality and cultural emblems.

As any visit to any major North American carnival would show, flag bandanas and nation colors have long been imbued inside the fashion sense of folks who are part of the nostalgic West Indian diaspora. I see more Trini flags in Miami carnival, than I do on the streets of Port of Spain, like, ever.

At the Ft. Lauderdale airport this holiday break, when I said to my new friend (we were on the same flight up and back) that I liked an older gentleman’s hat, a straw fedora with the colors of the Trinidad and Tobago flag wrapped as a neat side band around the crown, my friend commented derisively that he didn’t because he used to don “all kinda flag ting when I first came up” and he didn’t like any of those things anymore.

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Is it just me?

December 14, 2011

Or do some string instruments sound like soul tears expelling themselves in notes? Either way, loving this version below.

Roll It Boy: On Men, Masculinity and Bringing the Winery

December 10, 2011

There are few things I love more than men wining in wanton abandonment. Maybe good food and a select range of other things excite me more. I love men wining because of the ways in which it disturbs the mask of heterosexual masculinity. It flexes, disrupts and discombobulates with a swivel of the bamsee — most of all, it makes a lot of people, men and women, uncomfortable. I’ve contemplated before how masculinity is sometimes performed inside soca and the ways in which wining is coded inside the performativity of the stage persona (or perceived actual persona) of some male soca artists.

As a Trinbagonian from a wide ranging Caribbean & West Indian background reaching into Guyana and even further up the archipelago, seeing men dance completely unhinged is nothing new to me. Luckily, among some of the young men I know, seeing men wine down the place and bend over in front of a woman is also nothing scandalous to me and though I love to see it myself personally, I understand that it’s still a revolutionary upending of masculinity in some ways. Consider for instance, this video of Congolese singer (and newly crowned wining-god by me) Fally Ipupa’s stage performance with his band and dancers:

Predictably, under the video comments, there is one lamenting “why will a guy dance like a women [sic]” in addition to “this shit is SO gay…omg!!” The sexism and homophobia of these two comments underscore the power and meaning of the hetero (and/or assumed hetero) men who dance employing their hips, refusing to be constrained by context and widespread socio-cultural policing of acceptable vs. non-acceptable expressions of hegemonic masculinity.

What I really appreciate in this performance is the way in which the men’s gyrations seem to be performed fully, unapologetically with gusto by men, almost as a means to its own end — there are no women backup dancers bouncing around with them, and there are no women even seen in the audience within the camera’s range and this centers the men’s sexually suggestive hip movements in a uniquely singular way that I rarely see some black men do anymore.

Across the diaspora, men are allowed to be sexually suggestive in dance within reason and are even allowed to make people uncomfortable, within reason — so “daggering” might make some people uncomfortable but it’s an acceptable form of male sexually suggestive dance. R&B singers can slow wine at certain select moments, usually involving a lap dance on stage and a woman pulled from the audience or something of that nature. Wining, and men wining without women as props — not quite as acceptable.

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love.this.

December 1, 2011

feistyness

October 10, 2011

i don’t know why i don’t post more music, even though i enjoy writing about it.  and in case anyone cared, there will be an ode to sizzla’s use of metaphor sometime soon. oh, yes, there will be. (not discounting his raging homophobia and other problematics).

anyway, loving. this. below. some monday feist for you & i.

brouhahas and caustic interruptus

September 16, 2009

so, i didn’t watch the infamous broadcast but i heard about it then saw some of the footage via youtube. i think it’s interesting how some of the legions of people out there fussing about kanye west’s outburst the most, are largely some of the same people, most vocally promoting these swaggerific ideals on other days. and what’s swagger anyway? but a kind of aggro ego on steroids, masquerading as superficial threads, or “stacks” or the ‘way one carries one’s self.’ swagger (as we know it now) is NOT ever just confidence, which can be quietly internal–this is external and show-offy. it’s oftentimes a kind of corrupted self indulgence and self-absorption too. and worst of all, you can never have too much of it either—allegedly (when realistically you totally can).

swagger is ego dressed up as something and too many people are erroneously proposing it to be some enviable quality all over the place. it revolves around your view of how the world [people, friends, so-called “haters” etc.] views YOU. it’s brash. it’s cocky. and lauded. and for the possessor, probably eats away at certain other constructive ideals like a hungry catepillar—i’d imagine. you can’t have your swagger on high AND be self-reflective at the same time. then when you add some henny into the mix–well, for some folks, it’s a wrap. i mean, people are acting like it’s just kanye but truly, there’s a culture of ego that is popular everywhere you look. since unchecked swagger is so widely promoted in hip hop culture and other kinds of lifestyles: why are people surprised? and suddenly aghast all of a sudden?

or are they?

there are some aspects of contemporary pop and hip hop culture that desperately need new vocabulary and new frames through which to view and understand the world. because the ones they’re working with are sort of problematic to say the least. of course, this being america and kanye being black AND a rapper and taylor swift being who she is, it’s no surprise then that the racial element is being gleefully thrown into the mix by certain kinds of people on top of everything else. he is a product of his industry and american culture, no doubt (among other factors). everyone should just calm down—they’ll both be fine. kanye’s a resilient dude. and maybe ms. swift, upon seeing what happens when the eternally cranked up morning swag goes woefully awry— will surely hop out of her own bed in the morning, with way better things to do. [<— in case you missed this reference entirely, this here unfortunately, is how you turn your swag on and up.]